Junior Ganymede
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Mormonism and Evolution: the Marriage of Christ and Darwin

September 19th, 2013 by G.

Darwin_Fish_by_deaddamien People who accept evolution sometimes use it as a tool to decide whether religion is true or not. People who accept the gospel sometimes also use it as a tool to decide whether evolution can be true or not. People who accept evolution sometimes also use it as a tool to interpret religion–religion, they argue, must offer evolutionary benefits, since it is so widespread. These are all examples of treating either the gospel or evolutionary biology as true and putting the other in the dock.

But what if you treat both as true?

We can understand the gospel in the light of evolution. What conception of God’s character and purposes is revealed by His dealings with the natural world?
Steve Peck touches on the question here.

I also stumbled across the question:

In general Christianity the myth of the Fall is one where God set up everything to be nice and pleasant until Adam and Eve made a stupid, perverse decision and ruined it for all of us. But in Mormon Christianity the fall was *necessary* for mankind to progress and the myth of the fall is a tragedy of awful but inevitable choices and of having to suffer and be miserable to grow. In fact Mormonism makes these features of the myth of the Fall a universal story that each one of us lives. So I’d say the Mormon myth of the fall fits very well with the myth of evolution. So do other ideas that Mormons emphasize, like the need for opposition in all things.

But much more remains to be discovered. Descent and mortality and consequences and the experience of the flesh are central to both the evolutionary and the gospel story.
On the other hand, we can understand evolution in the light of the gospel. The evolutionary fitness of a creature must always be understood in light of its environment. But accepting Mormonism as true, the secular, scientific understanding of the environment is not complete. The evolution of non-kin altruism is difficult to explain as an adaptation to a purely secular landscape. But if altruism incurs on average some advantage in the form of temporal blessings from the Deity, its presence is no puzzle. Or if altruistic acts heighten the emotional well-being of the altruist by bringing him closer to God, then altruism is ‘fit.’ Notice how this speculation turns the traditional evolutionary account on its head. Traditional evolutionary science would have it that the emotional wellbeing that altruism brings is a result of altruism’s (unknown) evolutionary benefits. Emotional well-being tricks the mind into doing what is evolutionary fit. But if we see evolution as occurring in the presence of God, then well-being could itself be the evolutionary benefit. Alternatively, if altruism makes the altruist a better vessel for the Holy Ghost, the increased intelligence and wisdom that Spirit brings provides another possible evolutionary benefit.

We can rule out a straightforward connection between genes and being righteous and being blessed and having more surviving children. Otherwise we’d expect all the world to be holy. So genes must not compel righteousness, or individual righteousness must not straightforwardly lead to temporal blessings, or temporal blessings must not straightforwardly lead to evolutionary fitness, i.e., having more children. Modern Mormons do seem to generally have better temporal outcomes and also more children. Does that mean the connection between genes and righteousness must be extremely tenuous? Perhaps. If so, there is a gospel puzzle to be worked out. The gospel’s emphasis on descent and inheritance makes it hard to conceive that children would be blank slates with nothing bred into their blood from their parents. In turn, the gospel’s emphasis on mortality and the flesh makes it hard to conceive that if anything is bred into the blood, it doesn’t affect the spirit and the mind. Further inquiry is needed. One alternative solution is that modern Mormonism may not continue to be more ‘fit’ for long. Evolution takes some time to play out, so if an advantage is temporary its only evolutionary noise. As Mormons become more blatantly successful and apart from the mainstream of society, we may expect increased persecution as a feedback mechanism that would reduce Mormon fitness.

Comments (2)
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September 19th, 2013 14:10:36

September 19, 2013

Discussions of evolution always make me think of Abraham 4:18 – “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed”, and Helaman 12:7-8 – “O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth.
For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.”

Does the universe itself have agency?

September 21, 2013

I don’t think I follow the whole of this argument – but one factor that may need to be weighed is the possibility of group selection.

It has been conventional wisdom since Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene that group selection is so weak as to be ignorable – but I have gradually been convinced that some phenomena invite a group selection explanation.

Group selection operates on behaviour that reduces the relative reproductive success of an individual, but increases the reproductive success of his group.

Creative Genius is a plausible example – since it seems that most geniuses have a reduced reproductive success (fewer surviving children) but their discoveries may lead to a massive expansion of the population of which they are members. Think of the geniuses whose discoveries made the agrarian and industrial revolutions – as a consequence the NW European populations expanded to make up about a quarter of the world’s population.

Of course this situation is unstable after a while, and always subject to subversion by individual selection – but that also applies to almost all examples of natural selection (e.g. the production of larger units is subverted by evolution of its constituent parts – as when a cancer kills a human).

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